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ITU wants to influence and take advantage of open-source groups for 5G

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© Flickr/cc-licence/RyanBoyles

  • Extension for ITU-T Focus Group on network aspects of 5G
  • Group instructed to work with open source communities
  • “Influencing and taking advantage of their work” part of its mandate
  • Still need to plug the 85 gaps in existing standards

There’s always time to squeeze in another 5G update before the year is out, and the ITU helpfully obliges with news that its network team needs a little more time to complete its homework. As we all know, the development of 5G is working to an extremely tight timeframe, especially if the industry is to get its wish and have commercial and standardised 5G networks up and running by 2020. Whilst the development of SDN and NFV is proceeding at a blisteringly fast pace, thanks to the involvement of the open source community and a willingness on the part of the telecoms standards bodies to embrace faster working practices, not all of the Establishment is so fleet of foot.

The ITU-T Focus Group on network aspects of 5G (or IMT-2020, as they call it, to maintain ties with previous ITU-led mobile generations) has received an extension to its lifetime, with a mandate to undertake in-depth studies into areas such as “network softwarization” (surely one of the ugliest phrases yet coined in this industry) and slicing, emerging networking technologies, mobile backhaul and fronthaul, and end-to-end quality of service. Furthermore, new Terms of Reference call for the group to engage with open-source communities, “influencing and taking advantage of their work” (to quote the press release) by introducing them to the challenges that telecoms players must overcome in the development of the 5G ecosystem.

In other words, the ITU needs more time to understand the complexities of 5G before we enter the standards phase – which is perfectly understandable and now is the ideal time to do this. However, the “influencing and taking advantage of their work” phrase is open to interpretation – is it a genuine desire to engage in meaningful partnerships, or does it imply that the ITU is determined not to be bullied and rushed by those reckless hoodie-wearing upstarts who run linux on their MacBooks? Whatever the honest reason, any open source community approached by the ITU is now surely going to be a little upset over the perception of how the ITU intends to influence and take advantage of their work, and will probably get a little worked up over the prospect of being lectured to by the ITU on how to deal with the telecoms industry. This doesn’t bode well – a more diplomatic approach and more carefully nuanced language is surely needed. This is Geneva, after all… 

The ITU roadmap

The IMT-2020 programme was established by the ITU in 2012 to provide the framework for 5G research and development worldwide, and a subsequent roadmap was endorsed in October 2015. It is the role of the ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector to now coordinate the international standardisation and identification of spectrum for 5G mobile development, and the ITU Standardization Sector will perform a similar convening role for the technologies and architectures of the wireline elements of 5G networks.

“5G research and development is being driven by a great number and diversity of industry players, research institutes and standardisation bodies,” said Chaesub Lee, Director of the ITU Standardization Bureau. “Our Focus Group on network aspects of IMT-2020 is analysing how all the elements of the 5G ecosystem will work in harmony, a welcome contribution to the multifaceted 5G preparations being undertaken worldwide.”

The Focus Group was established in May 2015 to analyse how emerging 5G technologies will interact in future networks as a preliminary study into the networking innovations required to support the development of 5G systems. The group says it took an ecosystem view of 5G research of development, identifying 85 ‘gaps’ in existing standards to be addressed in the approach to year 2020, and published the analysis in its Report.

The Focus Group is open to participation by any interested party, and its initial findings have already been presented to ITU-T Study Group 13, the standardisation expert group responsible for future networks, cloud computing and network aspects of mobile communications. It is Study Group 13 that has granted the new mandate, which includes the exploration of demonstrations or prototyping with other groups, notably the open-source community – hopefully.

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